Not since Freaks and Geeks has a show come and gone so quickly while leaving a significant mark on the TV landscape. Enlightened focuses on Amy Jellicoe’s (Laura Dern) return from a stint in rehab after a mental breakdown at her corporate office. She returns with a mission to better the world and become her best self. Unfortunately, no one seems to care or take her seriously and she gets demoted, which leads Amy on a mission to take down her company from the inside. A lot of times on TV, the main character is the “anti-hero” who does terrible things but we cheer them on anyway (think Walter White or Don Draper). On Enlightened, it’s hard to cheer Amy on because she can be so self-absorbed she has no idea how annoying she appears to the people around her. We can never be too sure as to whether her intentions are actually for the greater good or if she is whistle blowing on her company for personal revenge. Enlightened is a show you have to see for yourself. And once you do, you won’t be able to stop talking about it and you’ll continually try to shove it down your friends’ throats. It’s that good. Sadly the show was canceled after only 18 episodes but the finale wraps things up and it’s hard to feel as though the show was anything less than perfect. Both seasons are available on HBO Go.
2. Top of the Lake
If The Killing frustrated you, check out Top of the Lake. This miniseries stars Elisabeth Moss as an Australian detective in New Zealand, searching for a missing pregnant 12 year-old. The mystery is introduced and wrapped up in 7 episodes with lots of twists and turns along the way. Moss gets a lot of great material and gives an incredible performance. All 7 episodes are available to stream on Netflix.
3. The Bridge
It might be a bit early to tell with this newcomer but the first 2 episodes are very promising. When bodies begin showing up on the US-Mexico border, 2 detectives (one American and one Mexican) work together to catch the serial killer. The Bridge is adapted from a Swedish series. Not only does main character Det. Sonya Cross have Asperger syndrome, but executive producer Meredith Stiehm worked on the first 2 seasons of Homeland. Seems like The Bridge is the best way to handle Carrie Mathison withdrawals until Homeland returns in late September. You can catch The Bridge Wednesday nights at 10 on FX.
It’s hard to expect much from a network drama series when cable has been so good in the past 5 years. But Hannibal proves that network dramas can be just as riveting as the stuff on cable. Hugh Dancy stars as Will Graham, an FBI investigator who specializes in getting inside the heads of serial killers. But little does he know his therapist (Dr. Hannibal Lecter) moonlights as a murderous cannibal. Mads Mikkelsen gives a chilling performance as the titular character and the scenes of his “culinary skills” on display bounce between appetizing and nauseating. Hannibal returns to NBC for its second season in 2014.
5. Adventure Time
If you think you’re too old for cartoons, you need to check out Adventure Time because it will completely change your mind. The show follows Finn and his dog Jake in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo that’s filled with a candy kingdom, an oafish Ice King, and tons of supporting characters and recurring jokes. Adventure Time builds a world that’s rich with characters, humor, and a lot of heart. The first season is available to stream on Netflix. The show’s fifth season is currently airing on Cartoon Network.
Something about this show reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s stories. Perhaps it’s the religious themes, the random acts of violence, and the Southern setting. In any case, this show about an inmate (Aden Young) getting released from prison after 19 years on death row is fascinating in how it tells its story. As Daniel Holden attempts to connect to his family, he must also face the scorn of the small town residents who still believe he is guilty. It’s an intense, character driven piece, and unlike anything else on TV. Where else will you see the main character of a TV show silently walk through a Wal-Mart and find it completely compelling? The short first season finished airing on the Sundance channel a few months ago, but it has already been renewed for a second season.
7. Orphan Black
You’re not really into science fiction? You only like well-written cable dramas? You’re done with mythology-heavy shows like Lost and Alias? Well, think again because you really need to watch Orphan Black. When con artist Sarah Manning sees a woman who looks just like her jump in front a train, Sarah assumes her identity with the intention of stealing her money and hitting the road. But things take a turn once Sarah realizes the mysterious jumper isn’t the only woman who looks just like her. There are more of them and they’re spread out all over the country, and someone is trying to hunt them down and kill them. Tatiana Maslany stars as the series 4 main characters and makes each of them unique and different. It’s a thrill to watch as each episode ends with heart-stopping twist after heart-stopping twist. The first season finished airing on BBC America earlier this summer, but a second season will hit the airwaves in 2014.
8. The Americans
Best way to describe The Americans? It’s kind of like Mad Men and Homeland but with more action and disguises. Set in 1981, The Americans centers on a couple of Soviet spies posing as the Jennings, a suburban American couple. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys give such great performances that the somewhat over-the-top premise remains grounded and real…even when the main characters are disguised in ridiculous wigs. What makes The Americans so great is that it cares about its characters and their relationships just as much as the espionage. There’s a lot of friction in the Jennings’ marriage, including husband Phillip’s American sympathies and wife Elizabeth’s unwavering support of the motherland. It all makes for great TV and there’s still plenty of time to catch up on the first season before season two returns in January on FX.
Remember how smart you felt once you told all your friends you watched “The Wire”? You can relive that same, magical smug feeling by watching this New Orleans-based drama from the mind of The Wire creator David Simon. But don’t expect this to be an epic tragedy in the proportions of The Wire. This show’s slower, and more character based. It’s the type of show that will stop everything for a musical performance, or a montage of a main character’s cooking skills. Treme is a show about people doing what they love, and the challenges they face in a post-Katrina New Orleans. Treme returns for a fourth and final season this fall on HBO.